Aaron Mooy may have played his best game since arriving in China against Sydney FC in the AFC Champions League last week, but the Australian international has admitted that the 2-1 come-from-behind win was far from easy.
The 30-year-old surprised fans in England, China and Australia with a sudden departure from Premier League outfit Brighton and Hove Albion in August in order to join Shanghai SIPG.
The Chinese media hailed Mooy’s performance in Shanghai’s opening game of the 2020 continental tournament, as he was instrumental in his new team coming back to defeat the Australian champions.
“It was a tough game,” Mooy told Football News China. “It took us some time to get into the game but we showed a good spirit and managed to do so.
“I was happy to get an assist and to help the team. We needed the win in a tough group and we know that every game will be close. We have been working hard and will continue to do so.”
Coming so soon after his move to China, it was a nice surprise for the Socceroo to meet up with some familiar faces in Qatar.
“I haven’t played in Australia for a while so I was happy to see everyone, especially those players who I have played with at clubs and the national team,” he said.
"It’s great to see them and to compete with them in the Champions League.”
Shanghai, Chinese champions in 2018, have yet to win the continental title but are confident of getting out of Group H with Sydney virtually out of the running with one point from four games.
Yokohama F. Marinos are top with nine points from three games with Shanghai second and Jeonbuk Motors of South Korea third.
“I think the match against Jeonbuk is crucial for us,” said Mooy, referring to the final group game on December 4.
“If we play well, we will win and will have a great chance to advance. I know that we are one of the best teams in Asia.”
Once out of the group, anything could happen, with the games coming thick and fast before a team from East Asia emerges to take on Persepolis of Iran in the final on December 19.
“The schedule of the AFC Champions League is very tight and we don't have much time to prepare for the next match," Mooy continued.
“This makes it difficult for the same players to play in every game and this means for those who don’t play often, they have a good opportunity to prove their ability.”
Asian success would end a difficult year for the team on a high. Shanghai finished what was a disappointing fourth in the Chinese Super League.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the season started five months late and was split into two halves with a tight schedule and players confined to hotels.
“It was an unprecedented experience,” Mooy said.
“It was difficult for the team because we worked and lived in a closed environment for a long time. My teammates, my coach and everyone on the team are doing their best to help me. I am very grateful to them.”
Mooy has been impressed with the level of football in his new home.
“The Chinese league has been developing," he added.
"The owners of the teams want to win and this makes the league very competitive, as everyone is fighting for success.
"Football in China is different to England but the level is very high.”